Giovanni Boldini was born in Ferrara, Italy in 1842 the son of a painter of religious subjects. He went to Florence in 1862 to study painting. He trained on the Italian Renaissance masters and combined work and study for many years, in Paris and London, and Holland and Germany. He developed his own, distinct style, and his portraits grew in fame, helped greatly by a portrait commissioned by Giuseppe Verdi in 1886, the biggest celebrity of his day.

Portrait of Guiseppe Verdi

Verdi gave Boldini an introduction into the world of opera, which led to many commissions for portraits, and to many intimate paintings of opera fans in theatres and cafes around Europe.

Boldini lived in Paris from 1872, where he moved in the Impressionist’s circle, a friend of Edgar Degas. He also became the most fashionable portrait painter of the time in Paris, with a dashing style of painting which shows some Impressionist influence but which most closely resembles the work of his contemporaries John Singer Sargent and Paul Helleu.

Boldini’s paintings showed his subject in soft-focus, elongated, in movement, alive, and sophisticated. His portraits were flattering. The brush work was swift and bold. It is this masterful brushwork that gives his paintings the sense of motion.

He also painted landscapes in the naturalistic style of his day, influenced by the Macchiaioli schooled artists he knew in Florence, and worked on engravings, with pastels, watercolors and etchings. It was only toward the end of his life did his style change, becoming more impressionistic (possibly due to his failing eyesight), using mainly dark, rich colors. His subjects changed as well. No longer having to rely on portraits for a living he began painting the subjects he wanted to paint, which seemed to be the female nude.

Yet another change that came late in life was that bachelor Boldini married; in 1929, aged 86.

He died of pneumonia 11 July 1931, and is buried in his hometown of Ferrara, Italy.


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